Developing Academic and Community Research Participation in a South African Township and Rural Community

By Esau, Omar | Educational Research for Social Change, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Developing Academic and Community Research Participation in a South African Township and Rural Community


Esau, Omar, Educational Research for Social Change


Copyright: © 2015 Esau

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

Introduction

During the past decade of democracy in South Africa, the need for higher education institutions to venture beyond the academic "ivory tower" was affirmed in government policy documents (Fourie, 2003). When contemporary educators use the term, ivory tower, pejoratively, as we often do, we seem to condemn not only its legacy of exclusivity but the purity of ivory and the isolation of towers. Consciously or unconsciously, we express hostility toward the ivory tower's esoteric quality: the fact that it defines an inner circle set apart from the rest. Of course, in an age where greater access to higher education is often described as a national priority, and where educational goals are frequently defended with reference not to individuals' intellectual gains but to the revitalising economic effects that advanced training will bring to our communities, it is not surprising that an esoteric and disengaged educational metaphor would be rejected as antidemocratic and reactionary.

The question that arises is, how do we bridge the gap between university and schools-which are viewed as a basic stepping-stone in life where children can receive much needed emotional, social, and spiritual support and guidance? Introducing preservice teachers to participatory action research projects with transformative agendas can go a long way towards promoting community-researcher partnerships. In recent times, there has been an increase in community-based participatory research and service learning in institutions of higher learning with regards to education and community development (Pine, 2009; Westfall, Van Vorst, Main, & Herbert, 2006). A shift toward community-based experiential learning can result not only in enhancing student learning and civic engagement, but also in altering the epistemological priorities and methodologies of the university. Furthermore, engaged scholarship can expand the social, cultural, and human capital of both local communities and universities-and generally improve our attempts at understanding and addressing social ills.

In this article, I reflect on how I attempted to inculcate the capacity for critical inquiry and reflection, as well as the integration of theory and practice, amongst preservice teacher-researchers by exposing them to participatory action research projects. I describe and reflect on two community engagement projects, one in a township and the other in a rural area, and explore both the building blocks for, and critiques of, engaged scholarship and the ways in which teaching techniques can be critically reimagined to include an experiential learning pedagogy of social change. I also suggest how future partnerships between the university and the community can be developed and nurtured.

Perspectives from the Literature

Forging mutually beneficial relationships between field workers in the community and academic researchers from the ivory tower has proven to be a challenging enterprise. The communication gap identified by many educators and researchers highlights the rift between what the research says and what practitioners do. Historically, educators and academic researchers have established their own worlds, their own communities of practice, their own ways of operating and communicating. As Hayes and Kelly (2000, p. 454) pointed out, "the emphasis on research in higher education helped establish a division of labour between those who did conceptual work (academic researchers) and those who executed the ideas established by others (educators or community workers)." Furthermore, some educators feel they have been treated as subjects in educational research with unrealistic demands of what they can and should do (Vaughn, Klingner, & Hughes, 2000). …

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